Members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) were surprised to receive an envelope from FedEx yesterday. Inside was a short letter informing them they had been fired without warning from the council.
Six members of the council resigned in June to protest President Donald Trump‘s apathy towards the epidemic and his attempts to take health care access away from people living with HIV/AIDS.
The PACHA was created in 1995 during the Clinton administration to provide recommendations about the government’s response to the HIV epidemic. The Bush administration continued the council’s charter and during the Obama administration the council created and monitored the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, wrote in Newsweek why he and five of his colleagues decided to leave the PACHA.
“The Trump Administration has no strategy to address the on-going [sic] HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and—most concerning—pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease,” he said.
After the news broke that the remaining members had been fired, Schoettes fired off a response on Twitter, writing “No respect for their service. Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed.”
Remaining #HIV/AIDS council members booted by @realDonaldTrump. No respect for their service. Dangerous that #Trump and Co. (Pence esp.) are eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed. #WeObject #PACHA6 #Resist
— Scott A. Schoettes (@PozAdvocate) December 28, 2017
Former council member Gabriel Maldonado, CEO of the LGBT and HIV/AIDS group Truevolution, confirmed the firing to the Washington Blade, saying the “explanation is still unclear.”
“I can only speculate,” Maldonado said.
Maldonado pointed to a recent news report that the Center for Disease Control had been banned from using words like “transgender,” “science-based,” “vulnerable” and “diversity.” The CDC director has denied those words are “banned” and said they were suggestions on how to get a project funded under the Trump administration.
“I was co-chair of the disparities committee, so much of my advocacy and policy references surrounded vulnerable populations, addressing issuing of diverse communities, specifically looking at the impacts of the LGBT community, namely, the disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS to people of color, gay men, transgender women,” Maldonado told the Blade. “And a lot of those key vulnerable populations are not being prioritized in this administration.”
Vice President Mike Pence, who has been running the administration behind the scenes as Trump continues his Twitter wars with the media, science, and fellow politicians, is vociferously anti-LGBT and has continuously shown resistance to combating HIV. He will likely be influential in picking replacements for the now-fired councilors.
The former Indiana governor refused to take action as an HIV epidemic swept through the southern portion of the state due to intravenous drug use. State and national authorities begged Pence to institute a needle exchange program and eventually Pence reluctantly agreed to “test” the program after national outcry.
As part of his first congressional campaign in 2000, Pence argued for public funding of “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ people in exchange for reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act.
Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Experts and now-former members of the council expect new representatives appointed by Trump/Pence to focus on failed abstinence-only programs while ignoring the communities most affected by the virus – people of color and LGBT people.